Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Nevermore: Little Bookstore, Quiver, Keeper of Lost Causes, Ann Bancroft, and More!

Reported by Kristin

Nevermore loves a good mystery, and Nordic noir often tops the list.  The Keeper of Lost Causes is the first in the Department Q series by Jussi Adler-Olsen.  Carl Mørck is working through cold cases in the Copenhagen police files when he finds a missing politician who is presumed dead, may not be dead after all.  Our reader found that the series is fun with some humor, and considers the English version a very good translation.

This cold weather has Nevermore thinking of even colder places, such as the Arctic Circle.  One reader discussed a piece of non-fiction for young readers, Ann Bancroft: On Top of the World by Dorothy Wenzel.  In 1986, this Arctic explorer was the first woman to travel to the North Pole by dogsled.  Our reader also noted that this was Ann without an E, not the Anne Bancroft who took off her stockings in front of Dustin Hoffman.

When Through Deep Waters by Rachelle Dekker proved to be entertaining.  Alicen McCaffrey is a mother who endures a terrible tragedy and then retreats to a mountain sanctuary with an old friend in an attempt to recover.  Even in the solitude of nature, Alicen’s guilt and sorrow make her question her own reality.  Our reader said that this book seemed to go on forever, but was well worth reading.

An East Tennessee fiction book made an appearance with Quiver by Julia Watts.  Set in rural Tennessee (our reader noted that it seemed to be near Johnson City,) two teen girls become unlikely friends.  Libby is the oldest in a strict fundamentalist Christian family with five (soon to be six) younger siblings.  Zo is a new neighbor, the only child of a far more liberal family.  The girls find an instant connection although the clash of familial cultures has outcomes much more serious than either would have thought.

Traveling just an hour or so northward, our next reader picked up The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch.  Wendy and her husband Jack were two outsiders who moved into a Southwestern Virginia small town and over time became a valued part of the community with their used bookstore.  Our reader exclaimed that she absolutely loved the book.

Finally, another reader picked up Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham.  This novel by the actress best known for her role as Lorelai Gilmore in the Gilmore Girls is a somewhat autobiographical retelling of her own early working life.  Franny Banks is just about to give up on her grand three-year plan of living and working in New York when her dreams finally seem to be coming true.  Our reader found this a rather light book, but endearing.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Don’t Make Me Pull Over! An Informal History of the Family Road Trip by Richard Ratay

Reviewed by Kristin

Richard Ratay sets out to take readers on a trip across the United States and through his childhood memories, and he succeeds admirably.  Part memoir of growing up in the 1970s, part Technicolor history lesson, this book provides a nostalgic look back at the author’s own experiences when the interstate system was new, the station wagons were wood-paneled, and the seatbelts were optional.

Richard was the youngest of four children and often ended up wedged in between his teenage brothers Mark and Bruce in the backseat while his prone-to-carsickness-sister Leslie took refuge up front between their parents.  Of course, staying in your seat was not exactly required in that decade.  Richard would often end up lying on the shelf in the back window waving to state troopers as they passed, and often getting a friendly wave in return.

The elder Mr. Ratay was a very economical man, constantly trying to save time by leaving their home in Wisconsin at 3:30 am (thereby missing the Chicago morning rush hour) and trying to save money by skipping meals on the road.  Dad often encouraged the kids to take a nap shortly before their hunger kicked in, therefore giving him a chance to eat up the miles and avoid spending money on lunch for six.  When the family did drive through a McDonald’s, they performed a speed drill worthy of the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, or perhaps The Three Stooges.

Between all of the family anecdotes, Richard provides quite a history of United States transportation.  Did you know that the construction of better roads was strongly influenced by bicycling clubs in the late 1890s?  Another proponent of smooth roads were health professionals who were big fans of riding bicycles and later driving the horseless carriage, simply because of the health problems that piles of manure created on city passageways.  An overview of popular destinations such as amusement parks and the world’s largest ball of twine—also all included in this book.  Billboards, motels, CB radios, videogames—all are discussed with gentle humor that took me back a few decades as well.

I remember well my family’s 1976 bronze Chevrolet cargo van.  The shimmery metallic interior was soon covered by custom installed wall-to-wall shag carpeting.  A bench seat which folded down into a bed (and may or may not have had seatbelts—I don’t remember!) provided a place to lounge whether on our way across town or on our way to visit family in Arkansas.  Behind the bench seat and accessible from the back doors was a storage compartment with a flat top, allowing for one child or another to lie against the back windows.  Between the backseat and the storage compartment was a small gap which my little brothers dubbed “the basement,” always a good place to hide away.

We had a citizens’ band radio and CB nicknames for everyone in the family as well.  Perhaps we were caravanning with friends or perhaps my dad was chatting with the truck drivers, but I can remember him using his handle of “Third Baseman” on the radio.  My mother was “Mayflower,” I was “Woodstock,” my middle brother was “Pickle Jar,” and my baby brother was “Fuzzy Bug.”

As for the golden age of family road trips, all good things eventually end or at least undergo significant transformations.  The Airline Deregulation Act of October 1978 (Thanks, Carter!) triggered changes in the air travel industry.  Fares, routes, and schedules were no longer set by the government, allowing the free market to push prices downward and to open new transportation possibilities for the average American family.  No longer were airplanes filled with only the upper class and business people with hefty travel allowances.  With less time spent together in the car, family vacations necessarily changed.  For the better?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  A hundred years ago there were surely people arguing that it was much better to ride in horse-drawn buggies instead of those infernal motorcars.

I recommend this well-researched and nostalgia filled social commentary/memoir to anyone with fond memories of family road trips.